Decorating Dilemma: Yvonne’s Dark Study

Lightening up a dark office with cherry wood paneling

Decorating Dilemmas is a weekly column in which our stylists answer your design questions, so you can tackle your home decorating project with complete confidence.

Dear How to Decorate,

I recently bought a new house and love everything except the study. It is 10×12 and has a small window, so not a lot of natural light. One side is covered with a dark cherry wood shelf and the other side is a built in closet and dark cherry wood panel. The ceiling has the same wood panel. The wood is nice but it feels like one big dark wooden box. And ironically my desk is also dark cherry wood. I desperately need some help to figure out what to do to brighten it up so I can actually enjoy time spent there!

I am thinking maybe painting the whole thing white including the shelf, wood panel wall, ceiling and ceiling light, but not sure which shade of white I should use and if that’s a good idea. The green carpet probably needs to go as well. Any ideas/suggestions will be greatly appreciated!





Dear Yvonne,

We’d love to help you turn your study into something that you will love! We love the cherry wood, but can see how you feel the room is too dark. Maybe we can take advantage of the wood’s beauty while brightening up the room!

We love Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, their color of the year, and Quiet Moments. You can completely paint everything Simply White and expose the wood floors, use both the colors in combination on the ceiling and walls, or just leave the ceiling Cherry Wood exposed and paint the walls. All of these would be great options!

Center your desk in the room on one of our soft colored rugs, like the Devlin Tufted Rug. It’s a beautiful aqua shade. A stylish and comfortable desk chair will make you love your office. The Elle Tufted Desk Chair in our Spa Linen behind the desk and then paired with the Leyland Armless Chair upholstered in Suzanne Kasler’s Sky & Blanc Stripe, will brighten up the corner of the room. We also placed our Felix Nesting Tables next to the Leyland chair. They have a pretty, silver finish that will work nicely with the other pieces in your room.

You can create a nice reading spot with our Sofia Settee in natural flax linen and place the Antoinette Bench, in cream, under your window. We love this bench as it can double as sort of a table/shelf as well as another seating location.

The final touch would be the lighting in the room. Let’s change out that dark ceiling fan with our Orb Chandelier in silver. It will be the center piece of the room. On the desk use the Putnam Task Lamp in antique silver and the Mercury Stacked Ball Lamp on a side table.

We can place many of our beautiful pieces of art around the room. The Portal Art is a lovely canvas that can fit in one of the natural frames on you walls. We also love the idea of using Suzanne Kasler’s Lamp Slips throughout your bookshelves to help break up the dark wood with crisp white silhouettes.

We think you will happy with your new brighter space,
Happy Decorating,
The Design Team

Lightening up a dark office with cherry wood paneling

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How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Reply


    July 31, 2016

    Thanks everyone. We have decided not to paint! Instead, we will try some of the suggestions mentioned. Appreciate everyone’s input! Yvonne

  2. Reply

    kiki logothetis

    July 16, 2016

    How can one possibly paint over such beautiful wood? This would be a great travesty. It’s like preferring all the plastics and compressed woods to the beauty of natural products and long-lost expertise of craftsmanship.Colors in rugs and upholstery as well as paintings and book covers would enhance the beauty of that wood. Take a page from the marvelous atmosphere found in English stately homes. (Watch “Downton Abbey”). I would be so happy to curl up with a good book in that room!

    • Reply

      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      July 25, 2016

      We agree that painting may not be the best bet. We mention in our response that she could paint if she really wanted to, but that we think these furniture and accessories would help brighten and lighten the space without paint!

  3. Reply

    Mary ML

    June 20, 2016

    I agree about not painting the cherry wood. And the upkeep to keep it looking pristine white would be awful. I think that installing fabric panels somehow or pieces of art within the panels would brighten it up, and backing the built ins wth a light patterened paper would be something that could be changed up. Also, maybe several hanged mirrors would help reflect the light! That wood is actually an historic selling point!! Dont cover it up, please. Someone will regret it for sure!

  4. Reply


    June 17, 2016

    I agree, the beauty of that craftsmanship would be lost by painting over it. In order to lighten the room up and bring interest first replace the carpet with a cream colored textural like a subtle patterned Berber, and replace the drapes with a cream/ivory again subtle pattern perhaps a quatrefoil
    and finally to give contrast and make the room pop I recommend displaying interesting frames, object d’ art, pictures, bowls, vases in ivory, gold or champagne capiz for interest and perhaps cover some books covers in linen. Finally, the room could benefit from recessed lighting in the ceiling coffer. Again, beautiful craftsmanship. Wish you well on your project…happy decorating!

    • Reply

      Caroline @ How to Decorate

      June 20, 2016

      We offered up the suggestions that we did with the suggestion that she try this first before painting! The fabrics and accessories would lighten the room a lot even without paint!

  5. Reply

    Joanne B.

    June 10, 2016

    I am not a decorator, other than a decorator of my own home. I love Ballard Design’s style and study your catalogs like a textbook. I look forward to your blog posts, especially the ones from real people in real homes. I do, however, have to tell you I think it would be a sin to paint that cherry wood! I understand the room may be dark and the homeowner wants to brighten the room up, but it would be such a shame to destroy the craftsmanship that is embodied in that room! The skill required to build a home with that level of woodworking is a dying art and to cover it up with latex (plastic!) paint is just unconscionable! Otherwise I like your decorating suggestions with regards to the furniture and accessories with the exception of the desk-I think I would like the Whitley desk in white. I might consider painting out some of the woodwork in a white or cream paint color- perhaps the partitions on the coffered ceiling? Oh! What do I know? But surely another decorator should be consulted to preserve the beauty of that wood. I would be so interested to see what the homeowner eventually decides to do!